Triple Frontier – A Movie Review

Triple Frontier is an action-packed film that kept me both anxious and very entertained.

The premise is that Oscar Isaac’s character is working as a security contractor who trains foreign armies and police.  He’s been after a particular drug lord for quite a while, but can never quite pin him down.  Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal play men who once belonged to Isaac’s unit, a band of brothers.  They are all retired from the military, and they are all down on their luck with little to show for their service.

Isaac’s character propositions them to help  him take down this drug lord by amassing intelligence regarding his stronghold.  They can each make a large sum of money doing so.  What is initially supposed to be a simple recon mission turns into a flat-out burglary.  From there, the unit must try to escape the drug lord’s men through the jungles of Columbia, through Peru, and over the Andes Mountains while carrying very, very large amounts of cash.

While Triple Frontier kept me on the edge of my seat throughout due to action and an ever-present danger, I also thought it said something provocative about soldiers who give everything to their country with nothing to show for it.  Who can blame these warriors for taking desperate actions to try to help their families, their friends, and even themselves?  The ethical dilemmas presented in this movie will make quite an impact, I assure you.

Furthermore, I found the locations beautiful and lush.  Most of the film was shot in Hawaii and Colombia, so these jungles and mountains are authentic.  The scope of the film is magnificent with some truly breathtaking scenes.

Best of all, though, was the cast.  I actually felt like these men had a bond between them.  Affleck, Hedlund, and Hunnam were fine, but Pascal and Isaac were the heart and soul of this movie.  Oscar Isaac gets better with every movie I see him in, and Triple Frontier is no exception.

Though very violent and laden with profanities, Triple Frontier kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish.  If you’re looking for an action movie with some authentic emotional beats, this one won’t disappoint.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

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Velvet Buzzsaw – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a gloriously weird movie that’s a little funny, a little scary, a little tongue-in-cheek, and a little masterful, check out the Netflix original film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, a prestigious art critic with the world at his feet.  He’s in love with Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton.  Josephina is trying to climb her way to the top of the art gallery industry as she works for Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze.  Yes, these names are fantastic.

After her neighbor dies, Josephina discovers that the deceased had an apartment full of original art.  Morf declares the man a modern day master and urges Josephina to sell it through Haze’s gallery.

Soon, though, strange things begin to happen involving the departed’s art, and that’s when the scares begin.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a whole lot of things, but it’s also never just one thing.  Well, it is one thing — entertaining.  I have to be honest, this movie kept me engaged from start to finish.  It’s so strange that it’s flat-out unpredictable.  Is it good?  I thought so, but I wouldn’t dare to argue with someone who told me they didn’t like it.  You certainly have to be in the right mood for Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s definitely one of the more unique films that I’ve seen of late.

I will say this though, Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely disappeared in his role as Morf Vadewalt.  His performance alone made this film worth watching.  With incessant fidgeting, a biting sense of humor, an impeccably odd sense of fashion, and a mesmerizing speech cadence, Morf leaped off the screen.  Though there’s no hero in this movie, Morf is as close as we get (which is not very close).

I also loved seeing Rene Russo again.  Her character, Rhodora Haze, once belonged to a punk rock band called–you guessed it–Velvet Buzzsaw.  Russo got to really strut her stuff playing an entirely unlikable, manipulative, evil businesswoman who gets a thrill in taking no prisoners.

By the way, there are also very fun performances in this movie from John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and Natalia Dryer (from Stranger Things).

In the end, Velvet Buzzsaw seems to exist in a world that has existed for quite some time.  The characters all have history with one another, and other than some fleeting references, the movie is not overly concerned with catching you up.  Nor is the film terribly worried about explaining what the hell is going on.  Once the art starts killing people, it doesn’t follow any particular rules or adhere to any specific logic.  If you buy the dead artist’s work, sell his work, look at his work, or even find yourself near his work … your life is in grave danger.  Heck, sometime’s it’s not even his art that gets in on the act.   (Did anyone else love Hoboman?  He’s the real star of this movie.)

If you’re looking for some inimitable performances, a wondrously quirky plot, and a bizarrely good time, I totally recommend Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s got to be the best of what it is … I’m just still not sure what it is.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

Captain Marvel – A Movie Review

The good news is that my original concern regarding Captain Marvel seems unfounded.

The bad news is that Captain Marvel is a wasted opportunity.

Allow me to elaborate.

I won’t go into too much detail about this movie for fear of spoiling it for you, but I will discuss some broad strokes.

First of all, Captain Marvel has some top-tier talent.  Brie Larson, Samuel Jackson, Annette Bening, and Jude Law all play significant roles in the film.  These are high-caliber actors and actresses.  Yet … they weren’t enough.

The fact is, Captain Marvel delivers a story revolving around the Kree and the Skrulls, two alien races at war with one another.  You’ve seen the Kree before in Guardians Of the Galaxy.  They were a nice little means to an end in that movie.  In Captain Marvel, they are front and center, and I couldn’t have cared less.

That’s the major misstep of Captain Marvel.  The story is predicated upon a war that the audience is neither invested in or familiar with.  It was very hard to follow, and, honestly, I found myself bored through much of it.  The movie focused upon a lot of ambiguity, a lot of chases, a lot of fights, a lot of glowy things, and very little actual story.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the character of Captain Marvel.  She’s got a ton of potential in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, with a different story, I think Brie Larson could have knocked it out of the park.  Unfortunately, though, the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be.  It had inspiring moments, but it didn’t necessarily deliver an inspirational message.  It had some funny moments as well, but it wasn’t a comedy or even an action-comedy.  It had tons of action, but much of the action seemed pointless.  I’m actually still struggling to concisely say what this movie was even about.

If anything, I would say Captain Marvel suffered from the same ailments most prequels do, and that’s the need to explain why X, Y, and Z happened in the other Marvel movies, and to lay the groundwork for future installments.  In the end, I don’t think Captain Marvel ever got to be its own story.

Oh, there’s also the problem of bad–really bad–dialogue.  The film is just one cliche after another and you can actually predict most of what comes out of Captain Marvel’s mouth.  Along those lines, the Skrulls have Australian accents.  Why not?  An alien race from the depths of space?  Sure.  Australian accent.  You bet.

It’s not all bad, though.  The special effects are great, and when Captain Marvel is at full power, it’s something to really behold.  Unfortunately,  those moments don’t make up for a talented cast who never got the opportunity to make us care about their characters as they raced from one place to another while spouting poorly written lines in a confusing, directionless film.

While I firmly believe Marvel needed a movie with a female lead, I don’t believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed Captain Marvel to progress its epic story.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

A Star Is Born – A Movie Review

You may have noticed a trend in which I’ve been watching a lot of movies recently released on DVD that I wanted to see in the theater.

A Star Is Born is yet another example of one such movie.

I should start by mentioning that I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of this film.  I have no idea how much it stuck to the source material, nor did I have an inkling as to how it would end.

More on that in a minute.

Here’s what I do know: I loved this movie.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I loved this movie.  On paper, I should just like this movie, not love this movie.  The story is not original (I mean that figuratively, but you could also take it literally).  The romance between Jack and Ally is not, on the surface, especially unique.  The ending of the film isn’t even breaking new ground.

So why did a story I’ve seen so many times before mean so much to me?

The answer to that is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are absolutely the reason this movie struck such a chord with me.  I believed in their characters’ relationship.  I found myself inextricably emotionally tethered to both of them.  I cared about their health, I cared about their careers, I cared about them.

I generally like both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but they are not sure-fire hits with me on any project they release.  This isn’t a blind faith kind of thing.  They had to win me over with A Star Is Born, and they did.  Oh, boy.  Did they ever.

I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but the general plot is that Cooper’s character, Jack, a nationally revered musician, happens across Gaga’s character, Ally, in an unlikely place.  A connection instantly forms, followed by a friendship.  Jack is impressed with Ally’s vocals, so he invites her up on stage with him.  From there, you guessed it–a star is born.  Their friendship quickly (very quickly) becomes romantic, and the case could probably be argued that they both experienced love at first sight.  Ally’s career takes off on its own, Jack suffers some health issues, these two things influence their relationship and, ultimately, bring about the film’s conclusion.

Like I said, I won’t spoil it for you, but the aforementioned conclusion?  It destroyed me.  I’m still rattled by it.

I’ve seen both Bohemian Rhapsody and The Favourite, and, in my opinion, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave much stronger performances than the Best Actor and Actress winners–Rami Malek and Oliva Coleman.  Not only did Cooper and Gaga act, sing, and play instruments, but they made me believe in their world in such a way that neither Malek nor Coleman achieved.  They made me forget about Cooper and Gaga and see only Jack and Ally.  Cooper and Gaga made me invest at such a deep level that they provoked a potent emotional response.

My only complaint about A Star Is Born is the pacing of the film.  I realize this can be a little difficult due to time constraints, but I never got a great sense of how much time passed within the duration of the film.  As a result, everything felt like it happened really quickly.  Their relationship, Ally’s rise to fame–it seemed to occur within months.  I realize this can’t possibly be the case, but the film never quite indicated the span of time between important moments.

This small complaint isn’t enough to negatively impact my opinion of the film, though.  In fact, as of right now, I would pick it as the real “Best Picture” winner.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, Roma, or Vice, so I can’t state that as objectively as I’d like.

It’s probably obvious, but I absolutely recommend you see A Star Is Born.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

Bohemian Rhapsody – A Movie Review

It wasn’t until this movie started getting mentioned for Oscar nominations that I gained an interest in it.  Honestly, while I like Queen well enough, I had no interest in seeing a biopic about the band.  I kind of figured it … wouldn’t be good.  How many movies about real bands have been good?

Back in November, though, people were giving it good buzz.  I heard that it had great energy and really focused on the music.  During the last few months, however, I heard critics from Pop Culture Happy Hour and The Ringer talking about how Rami Malek was ultimately just doing an impression of Freddy Mercury–that there wasn’t much acting to it.  In fact, they claimed his prosthetic teeth were doing all the work.  (Those chompers really were extremely distracting.)  Furthermore, they complained that the movie played it pretty safe and seemed intent on painting Queen in the best light possible.  Of course, they were also critical of director Bryan Singer’s reported erratic behavior and alleged past misconduct.  His behavior apparently led to his dismissal before filming concluded.

The Oscars seemed to side with popular opinion and declared it a “Best Picture” nominee.  It didn’t win that award, but Malek did pick up a “Best Actor” trophy and the film won three more Oscars in technical categories.

Well, by this point I had to see Bohemian Rhapsody for myself.  As soon as it became available at my local library, I checked it out.  My wife and I just finished it, in fact, and, yeah, it’s a crowd pleasing piece of work.

If you love Queen music, you’re going to really enjoy this movie.  If you like feel-good movies where everything works out in the end, this movie is for you.  I won’t lie–I had a great time watching it.

But, with that being said, it definitely does paint the band in a positive light.  They have a little tiff here and there, but for the most part the movie depicts them as supporting one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another as family.

There’s nothing wrong with that, for sure.

It also delves into Mercury’s homosexuality, drinking, and drug use, but rather innocently.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it all felt very sanitized.  Of course, this makes total sense when making a film aimed at pleasing a mass audience.  Knowing Mercury’s ultimate fate, the movie wanted us to hold him on a pedestal in the end.

I’ve heard the critics complain that Jim Beach, the band’s longtime manager, acted as a producer on this movie, and that the surviving members of Queen fought hard to make the band look as good as possible.

That makes perfect sense from their perspective.  And, frankly, as an audience member, I’m okay with it all.  I’m not watching Bohemian Rhapsody for a history lesson–I’m watching it for fun.  If they gloss over some darker moments of reality and create a little dramatic tension for effect, I can accept that in this particular circumstance.

The point is that one should not take this movie as gospel.  It is not necessarily accurate in many cases, so the viewing audience should not treat it as a documentary.  It’s a fun, exciting movie based on a real man, but that doesn’t make it scene-for-scene truth.  (Rolling Stone has a list of mistakes committed by the movie HERE.)

Don’t let this misinformation stop you, though.  Like I said, I found it immensely entertaining and have no problem recommending it to others.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Operation Finale – A Movie Review

Operation Finale is a movie based on historical fact.  It chronicles a team of Israeli agents sent to Buenos Aires in Argentina to capture the Nazi war criminal named Adolf Eichmann.  As records show, they were delayed several days after securing Eichmann and had to keep him in a safe house as they awaited extraction.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, an actual member of the team that captured Eichmann.  He is credited with wrestling Eichmann to the ground when the murderer sensed something amiss.  Ben Kingsley plays the high-ranking Nazi official who organized the transportation of Jews to their deaths who, along with several Nazis, took refuge in South America.

My wife loves historical movies, so we went together to see this.  She enjoyed it even more than I did, and that’s saying something because I liked it quite a bit.

We agreed that for such a complicated story, it was surprisingly easy to follow.  The editing felt very smooth and the story unfolded fluidly.  Though I can’t say I totally remember every character’s name–there were several–each appeared visually unique and had a distinct personality which made them simple to recognize.

In fact, overall all, we thought the acting was superb, particularly in regards to Ben Kingsley.  Kingsley played Eichmann as a regular man.  He did not portray him as a two-dimensional villain, nor did he deliver a pompous, raging despot.  Fifteen years after the war’s end, Kinglsey characterizes Eichmann as quiet, reserved, even gentle.  But every once in a while, you see a flash, a brief glimpse, of the conniving, murderous Nazi hiding behind those eyes.

The filmmakers utilized another shrewd storytelling technique as they revealed snippets of Eichmann’s past, little by little, in short, potent vignettes.  Those scenes eventually piece together a vision of Eichmann that is horrifying and in stark contrast to the man being held prisoner at the safe house.  I specifically loved the image of him annoyingly wiping ink off of his cuff during a Nazi meeting.  He wore the same expression upon his face as he wiped something entirely different from his uniform near a death pit.  These little touches were remarkably effective at conveying character.

Make no mistake, however, even though Eichmann seems powerless while in custody, he is not.  He’s engaged in subtle, almost imperceptible, mental warfare with his captors, and the audience is led to believe he might just outlast them all.

Though I liked the movie very much, I’m the first to admit it’s a little on the slow side.  This disciplined pacing, though, absolutely illustrates the tension in the safe house as they waited nearly ten days to take Eichmann to Israel.  During this holdover, everyone is beginning to climb the walls, and it’s Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin who must keep his head for the sake of them all.

Truthfully, I entered the theater believing most of the movie would occur in the courtroom.  I thought we were going to see quite a bit of Eichmann’s trial.  This did not prove to be the case, and I felt totally fine with that.  We all generally know the outcome of that trial, but I knew virtually nothing about Eichmann’s detainment.  They were smart to zero in on the more enigmatic material of the story.

Operation Finale is a period film that appears authentic in terms of both era and locale.  It does not offer much in the way of special effects.  It’s fairly quiet.  But it’s also focused, deliberate, and well-constructed.  In the end, it was nice to experience a movie intent on delivering a captivating story with superb acting.

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